(Top) Michele Jongeneel, Mary Madsen, Zachary Denison, Jake Szczypek, Joey Kipp, Mercedes Searer and Edward Einhorn.
Photo by Wolfgang Wesener.
BOTTOM LINE: It might be the most surprising and innovative thing you've seen all year.
Upon entering 4Chambers, you leave your cell phone and belongings in a locker. This separation really forces you to pay attention and I could see a few people panic at the thought of it. 4Chambers is separated into four parts like the heart itself and each section is exactly the right amount of time. The six dancers act as docents and lead each audience member through the arteries and veins of the historic house as the piece progresses. You can tell that this is a well thought out production from the moment you enter until the time you leave and are handed a nice cool drink of water on the porch. It seems that your movement is choreographed as much as that of the dancers as you find yourself placed in exactly the right spot. The dancers do an amazing job at giving each audience member attention and a full experience. They took each person in the audience (there are only twelve per show) and danced with them; in a city where eye contact with strangers is rare, it creates an interesting dynamic to watch and feel yourself.
This is Oberfelder's first site-specific installation of this nature and scope. I think this atmosphere suits her work incredibly well. I could imagine this work translating to a gallery space as well as to some abandoned building. It has almost universal appeal in reaching to the science geek or the hipster, the conservative or the liberal.
The audience enters a dark room with a dance film projected on the ceiling. This familiarizes you with Oberfelder's physical aesthetic. The dancers fling themselves off the walls and break off into quirky movement phrases. Then, one at a time, each audience member enters a room where they are swept up and maybe even lifted by a dancer. You can feel their heartbeat, and then when they place your hand on your own, the difference is remarkable. They direct you to walls where they perform in between you and fellow audience members without ever knocking into anyone. My dancer, Michele Jongeneel, worked seamlessly around a fireplace and an air conditioner. Now that's grace and precision. The duet with Jongeneel and Zachary Denison is delicate and violent in the same moments and stands out in the first section. Each of the dancers has an alluring personality and concentrated gaze that reaches the span of a rainbow.
Dancers then lead visitors up the stairs; as they pass out heart monitors, a high tech computer program asks each person questions such as " What scares you most?" and you begin to relate to the piece in an entirely different way. The program asked me "What is the last thing that surprised you?" I had to answer, "This." Next is a hallway full of found objects and film. It's a nice way to let everything begin to seep in and learn facts about the heart. There was even an app that took your heart rate from face recognition software (I just downloaded it onto my phone). The show comes to an end in a red chiffon-lined and beautifully lit room. This final section starts out with a monologue and erupts into very visceral dance phrases and crashing pulsations into the walls by all the dancers; as the end nears, this group tackles each other and huddles into a tight knit group. After doing ten shows a week together, that is exactly what they are and you feel the honesty in that.
It was a pleasure to watch the full experience and become more in tune with my own heart. For me, 4Chambers was about getting out of your head and syncing up with feelings. Especially on a hot sticky summer day, we need more art like that. I loved it and want to see it again.
(4Chambers plays at Building 15 in Nolan Park on Governor's Island, through July 21. Performances are on Saturdays and Sundays, at 11:30 AM, 1 PM, 2:30 PM, 4 PM, and 5:30 PM. Tickets are free (suggested donation $25) and reservations are required. Email email@example.com)